This is what the Indianapolis Colts do. They dominate the AFC South Division.
While it’s easy to question what the Colts are capable of against quality competition, the two-time division champions have a 13-game AFC South winning streak after Sunday’s 27-10 victory over Tennessee at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
The Colts capped a third consecutive 11-5 season with a relatively easy victory as quarterback Andrew Luck played only one half against the Titans (2-14), who lost their 10th in a row and tied Tampa Bay for the NFL’s worst record.
The loser of Sunday night’s Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game at Heinz Field will visit the Colts for next weekend’s AFC Wild Card game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Date and time will be determined later tonight. If the highly unlikely event of a Bengals-Steelers tie, the Colts would move up to the No. 3 seed from No. 4 and host Baltimore.
Luck threw two TD passes before giving way to backup Matt Hasselbeck, who passed for one score against his former team as the Colts pulled away with 10 fourth-quarter points. Tight ends were the popular targets. Coby Fleener caught two passes for scores and Jack Doyle had the other.
Luck and Hasselbeck combined to complete 23-of-35 passes for 315 yards. That was in stark contrast to Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who struggled against the Colts’ blitzing defense and completed just 12-of-28 passes for 72 yards and one score.
Rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome had half of the defense’s four sacks as the Colts yielded just 192 total yards, the second-fewest allowed this season. Cincinnati managed just 135 in a 27-0 Colts home win on Oct. 19. Newsome, a fifth-round pick out of Ball State, bumped his season sack total to 6.5, which leads the team.
The Colts were in need of a bounce-back performance after last week’s 42-7 loss at Dallas. Veterans called a players-only meeting during the week to discuss getting their act together.
Luck threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Fleener in the opening quarter. It was the first time this season had scored a first-quarter touchdown in December. Their last came in a 49-27 home win over Washington on Nov. 30.
Luck then found Doyle alone for a 1-yard score in the second quarter. The Titans responded with their only touchdown as Whitehurst hit Kendall Wright for a 6-yard score. The Colts closed the half with an Adam Vinatieri 23-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead.
Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest player who celebrated his 42nd birthday Sunday, missed a 46-yard field goal wide left in the third quarter to end his perfect season and snap a streak of consecutive makes at 35. He was 29-of-29 this season before the miss.
The Titans had it first and goal at the Colts’ 3 after Shonn Greene’s 52-yard run in the third quarter, but couldn’t punch it in as Newsome sacked Whitehurst on third down and caused a fumble that Tennessee recovered. Ryan Succop’s 31-yard field goal made it a one-score game.
But Hasselbeck drove the Colts into field-goal range on the ensuing possession and Vinatieri delivered from 26 yards out. Hasselbeck finished the scoring with an 8-yard TD pass to Fleener with 3:16 remaining.
Fleener finished the regular season with a career-high eight touchdown receptions, which tied tight end Dwayne Allen for the team lead. Allen was inactive due to a knee injury. Fleener had six scores in his first two NFL seasons.
The Colts finished the game without any extra offensive linemen as left guard A.Q. Shipley (ankle) and left guard Hugh Thornton (knee) exited with injuries. Backup center Jonotthan Harrison finished the game at guard.
Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne also called it a day early after tweaking a groin on an 80-yard reception in the second quarter. It was the longest pass reception of his 14-year career.
The pass play was also the longest completion for Luck, who in the process set a new single-season franchise record with 4,761 passing yards, surpassing Peyton Manning's 4,700 in 2010. The Colts set another record with 4,894 net passing yards in a single season.
The Colts did not have an offensive turnover for just the third time this season. They had committed 31 in the other 13 games.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.